Tradition Behind the Wedding Engagement

Most couples plan a year-long engagement to make preparations for their wedding, although some of the most popular wedding specialists can be booked from 12 to 18 months in advance.

In the earliest days of the human race, the betrothal ritual involved an exchange of gifts or property from the groom-to-be to the bride-to-be's parents. This was not only ceremonial, but an important part of the marriage contract because the bride's family was losing her to another lineage forever, and sought compensation for this. The betrothal eventually gave way in the eighteenth century to a courtship whereby a groom chose his bride for reasons of love.

Following the era of the arranged marriage when the groom would specify the exact payment he offered for his future wife, the formality of a groom asking the bride-to-be's father for her hand in marriage preserves a trace of history and often serves to cement the relationship between the groom to-be and his future father-in-law.

Origin of the Engagement Ring

Engagement, or betrothal, rings date back to the ancient days of marriage by purchase when gold rings were circulated as currency. The groom-to-be would offer his bride-to-be a gold ring both as his partial payment and as a symbol of his intentions.

Brides-to-be in these earlier times wore woven bands made of rush (a flexible marsh plant with hollow stems) and replaced them each year. Roman brides-to-be wore rings made of iron to symbolize the permanent, unending nature of marriage. During Medieval times, grooms-to-be placed the ring on three of the bride's fingers in turn to represent the Holy Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Gimmal Ring

The gimmal ring originated during the Elizabethan period and is a set of three interlocking rings. During the engagement, the bride-to-be, groom to-be, and their witness each wore one of the rings until the wedding day when the three pieces were united as a single ring for the bride.

Buying the Engagement Ring and Considering Other Options

It is customary for the groom-to-be to cover the expense of the engagement ring for his bride. Because of the cost of some engagement rings and wedding bands, it is certainly acceptable for the bride-to-be to contribute to the purchase of her ring. It is usually the bride-to-be who purchases her fiance's wedding band. The most popular groom's rings today are classic bands of gold or platinum.

Probably the first consideration for a groom is whether to purchase a new engagement ring or present a family heirloom. The most traditional engagement ring is a diamond solitaire which can easily be paired with a variety of wedding bands. Some brides prefer to wear their engagement and wedding rings separately or to just wear their engagement rings on special occasions.

Engagement rings can be found in jewelry stores and the fine jewelry department in some department stores. The bridal couple should visit several jewelers to compare a selection of styles, workmanship, price points, and customer service. A jeweler's credentials and memberships in professional jewelry associations can be checked. The American Gem Society, founded in 1931, is an organization maintaining high standards for its members and sponsors ongoing educational programs to train retail sales associates. Most jewelers offer complimentary sizing, cleaning, and tightening of the stone for the first six months or year of ownership.

Technical Specs on Engagement Rings

The setting refers to the arrangement of stones within the metal frame of the ring. A good setting is like the right picture frame: it needs to show off what is inside and be able to fit in with its surroundings. It is, therefore, important to find the perfect setting that goes not only with the stone the couple choose, but also looks good on the bride's hand.

Engagement rings are popularly available set in gold and white gold. Silver is rarely used because it tarnishes and therefore is not a good representation for a marriage. Platinum, a metal used for rings prior to World War I, is now popular again in the rings worn by almost one-third of today's engaged women. Fourteen karat gold and 24 karat gold are numbers which refer to the purity of the gold. Twenty-four karat is pure gold, while 14 karat is a blend with 14 parts gold and 10 parts of another metal.

Various Gemstones that can be Incorporated into an Engagement Ring

Some brides choose their birthstone or favorite gemstone in a setting enhanced with diamonds.

  • Garnet, the birthstone of January, is regarded to symbolize eternal friendship. The garnet is a semi-transparent, dark red gemstone.
  • According to biblical folklore, amethyst a February birthstone is a symbol of faithfulness and sincerity. This gem is a clear purple or bluish violet quartz widely used in various types of jewelry.
  • Aquamarine, the March birthstone is a transparent blue, blue-green, or green gemstone. It is said to symbolize intelligence and courage.
  • Diamonds, the birthstone of April, are believed to protect the wearer from evil spirits and represent innocence and matrimonial happiness. While most diamonds appear colorless, others offer a hint of color ranging from a soft blue to light yellow.
  • Emerald, the birthstone of May is a symbol of domestic harmony and success in love. This gem is a transparent green stone.
  • The pearl is said to reflect health and longevity and is the birthstone of June.
  • The July birthstone, a red corundum, is the symbol of love and contentment. Legend suggests that a ruby engagement ring will darken in color if the course of true love is not running smoothly.
  • The sardonyx, the birthstone of August, is a white-and-brown variety of the onyx.
  • The sapphire is said to bring its wearer good health and good fortune. The birthstone for September represents truth and faithfulness. This gemstone is from the same family as the ruby but is rich blue in color.
  • The opal, an October birthstone, symbolizes hope. This gem is often marked with an iridescent mixture of colors against a soft, milky white ground or a vivid, fiery ground.
  • Fidelity is expressed in Topaz a November birthstone, which is yellow to the yellow-brown transparent gemstone.
  • Turquoise, a blue, bluish-green, or green gem is the December birthstone. It is said to represent prosperity.

Criteria to Use in Shopping for a Diamond Ring

Financial experts recommend that couples spend not more than three weeks' salary or roughly 6 percent of annual income. On the other hand, the jewelry experts recommend couples with limited finances at the time of their engagement can certainly reset the stone or add extra stones at a later date.

The diamond industry has identified the four C's -- color, clarity, cut, and carat weight -- to assist consumers in making educated purchases.

  • The majority of diamonds do appear colorless, though there are many that contain a hint of color. The Gemological Institute of America has a letter grading system for classifying the color of diamonds, starting with D for the slightest blue tone and spanning the alphabet to Z for the yellow stones.
  • The clarity of a diamond refers to the number of internal flaws contained in the stone. Diamonds, the crystallized form of carbon, may contain some impurities that are often visible only by a jeweler's microscope. The fewer number of flaws increases the value of the stone.
  • The cut of a diamond refers to the design of facets, including the round solitaire, marquise, oval, pear, and Emerald. High-quality diamonds reflect more light and appear to have a greater sparkle. The Marquise cut refers to a stone that is pointed at both ends. An emerald cut refers to a stone that is square or rectangular.

The karat of a stone is a unit of weight for precious gems equal to 200 milligrams. There are 100 points to a karat. The average size of an engagement ring today is about .75 karat.

The Role of an Outside Appraisal

Before making the final purchase of an engagement ring, the groom should take the ring to an independent appraiser for examination. The appraiser will prepare a written document that confirms the specific composition of both the stone and the setting, including a detailed description of the weight, color, and shape. The appraisal essentially identifies the quality of the ring, which should be compatible with the price set by the jeweler. Any discrepancy in the appraiser's examination of the stone and setting should be resolved with the jeweler before the sale is complete.

Insurance to Protect an Engagement Ring

For some couples, the wedding jewelry can be covered on a basic homeowner's insurance policy but should be separately itemized listings. The rings should be reappraised about every five years and the insurance coverage adjusted to reflect the current value. Couples should consult with their insurance to determine their needs-protection against theft and/or loss, and coverage if the whole ring is lost, not just the stone.

Timing in Presenting an Engagement Ring, Making the Proposal and the Ensuing Announcement

Although many grooms-to-be take pleasure in slipping an engagement ring on their fiancee's finger along with the offering proposal, it is certainly not a requirement for a couple when pledging their love to each other. In today's modern age, many couples spend time together shopping for the engagement ring either before or after the conversations that lead to the formal proposal. Many grooms-to-be employ a restaurant waiter to share in the process by placing the engagement ring in the bride-to-be's champagne glass, or by delivering a dessert inscribed with the question "Will you marry me?" or having a fortune cookie specially made with the proposal written inside. The engagement ring is placed on the third finger of the left hand since in ancient times this finger was believed to be the only one with a vein running directly to the heart. Therefore, it was believed that a ring on this finger would ensure a long and loving marriage.

Both sets of parents should be the first to learn of the upcoming marriage. Traditionally, the bride's family hosts the first social gathering to share the good news with family members and close friends If the groom's family resides in a distant hometown, they may also host an engagement party for the couple.

Formal Engagement Announcements

After sharing the good news with the immediate family members and close friends, there will be other family members, friends, and colleagues who the couple will want to inform. A formal announcement is the most traditional vehicle for providing the information.


Mr. And Mrs. James Arthur Harding

announce the engagement of their daughter

Caroline Sydney


Mr. Charles Edward Perkins

February the fourteenth

Nineteen hundred and ninety-eight


Although the complete date of the engagement is usually shown, some prefer to indicate just the month and year.

The Official Engagement Announcement in Print Media

Most newspapers prefer to announce engagements between six months and one month before the wedding day. The bride should contact the newspaper(s) she wants the announcement in to find their particular procedure and time. Most newspapers can provide the bride with a standard form to complete with the following information on both the bride and groom: first, middle, and last names; names and hometowns of parents; schools attended and degrees received; current job title and employer; date and location of the wedding. Although most newspapers historically printed engagement announcements as a courtesy to its readers, it is not unusual today for a nominal fee to be assessed for the publication. Many newspapers will accept only professional photographs to publish with both engagement and wedding announcements. Some newspapers, however, are limited by space requirements to only accept one photo; couples will need to agree which announcement they prefer to accompany with a photo.

If the groom's parents reside some distance from the bride's parents, the bride's parents should provide all the information necessary to announce the engagement in the groom's hometown newspaper. It is not traditional for the groom's parents to make the engagement announcement.

If the bride's parents are divorced, the engagement announcement should be worded in the newspaper like this:

Mr. James Arthur Anderson of Dallas, Texas, and Mrs. Laura Lee Anderson of Atlanta, Georgia, announce the engagement of their daughter Caroline McLean to Charles Edward Hayworth, the son of Mr. And Mrs. Mitchell Pines Hayworth of Kansas City, Missouri.

If the bride's parents are divorced, the formal engagement announcement should be worded like this:


Mr. James Arthur Harding

Mrs. Laura Lee Harding

announce the engagement of their daughter

Caroline Sydney


Charles Edward Perkins

February the fourteenth

Nineteen hundred and ninety-eight


If the bride and groom are hosting their own wedding, the engagement announcement should be worded in the newspaper like this:

Caroline McLean Anderson, a graduate student at Boston University, is to be married to Charles Edward Hayworth, a doctoral candidate at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Miss Anderson is the daughter of Mr. And Mrs. James Arthur Anderson of Dallas, Texas. Mr. Hayworth is the son of Mr. And Mrs. Mitchell Pines Hayworth of Kansas City, Missouri.


Gifts and the Engagement Party

Guests are never expected to bring gifts to an engagement party, but they often do. Unless every guest attending the party brings a gift, the couple should open their gifts during a private moment. At the engagement party, the bride's father is the first to invite guests to raise their glass in honor of the bride- and groom-to-be.

As all the party guests drink their beverage, the bride and groom refrain from drinking. The groom-to-be then offers a toast to honor his fiancée and her family. When the groom-to-be has concluded his short speech, other guests may propose toasts to the couple and their parents.

To compile the guest list for the engagement party, the bride- and groom to-be should be ready to provide names and addresses of their immediate family members and close friends for the hostess of the engagement party.

An Engagement Gift for the Groom

There is no requirement that the bride-to-be chooses an engagement gift for her fiancé, although many engaged women give a personal, long-lasting present to their future husband. Popular gift choices include a watch engraved with the date or a special message or a leather portfolio stamped with his initials.